Network Updates / London, United Kingdom / 2020-08-11

Nitrogen dioxide levels fall five times more in London than rest of UK:

New data shows drop in roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations is five time greater than in rest of the country

London, United Kingdom
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Central London’s nitrogen dioxide concentrations have fallen on a scale five times greater than the national average since 2016, according to new evidence published by the office of the Mayor of London.

The new data is being submitted as part of London’s response to a call for evidence from the Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) scrutinizing the Government’s air quality strategy.

The Mayor’s office says the data demonstrates the effectiveness of local policy to drive significant improvements in air quality, prompting Mayor Sadiq Khan to call for more powers and funding to be given to UK cities.

“I’m proud of the dramatic improvement in London’s air quality since I was elected as Mayor, with reductions in roadside NO2 in the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone that are five times greater than the national average,” Mayor Khan said.

“Today’s response shows the scale of improvement that is possible when policies are ambitious and city leaders have proper powers they can use. National Government now needs to match London’s level of ambition and provide additional powers through the Environment Bill to cities across the country,” he continued.

Central London is the home of the world’s first 24-hour Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which came into operation in April 2019.

In 2016, London’s air exceeded the hourly legal limit for nitrogen dioxide for over 4,000 hours; in 2019, this fell to just over 100 hours — a reduction of 97 per cent.

In 2020, before measures to address the COVID-19 outbreak were introduced, hourly average levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide at all monitoring sites in central London had already dropped by 44 per cent since 2017.

“These figures show how local leadership can make the difference in tackling polluted air. London’s example should inspire other cities to match their ambitions. But it will require new powers and resources from central government along with a cast iron commitment in the Environment Bill to cutting air pollution to safer WHO levels by 2030,” said Polly Billington, Director of UK100, a network of local government leaders who have pledged to shift to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050.

London has also seen additional improvements in air quality during the coronavirus lockdown as traffic fell to around half pre-lockdown levels.

“As London starts to recover, our challenge will be to eradicate air pollution permanently,” the press release stated.

A YouGov poll conducted in May 2020 revealed that nearly nine in ten Londoners were in favour of measures to reduce car emissions and use, while a study by the Clean Air Fund this year found that close to 70 per cent of respondents in Great Britain supported stricter laws and/or enforcement of regulations on air quality when the pandemic comes to an end.

“In the UK, there are roughly 40,000 early deaths each year linked to outdoor air pollution. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, this issue was vastly overlooked. It has now been two years since we called on the Government to urgently address this crisis. Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of a new Clean Air Strategy and Environment Bill, but it’s crucial that these frameworks are both enforceable and ambitious,” Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said in June.

“Disadvantaged communities are affected far worse by air pollution than anyone else and recently we’ve seen just how serious underlying health problems can be. The pandemic is threatening to push back some of the crucial work planned for addressing poor air quality, when it is clear that it should instead be a once-in-a-lifetime catalyst for action,” he said.

While having come a long way from its infamous “pea soupers” of the 50s, Londoners have still tolerated illegal levels of air pollution in the last few years.

“Here in London, we are not complacent and know there is still more to do. Pollution isn’t just a central London problem, which is why in October 2021 I am expanding the ULEZ to the North and South circular, improving the lives and health of Londoners for years to come. I want to go further, but can only do this with the Government’s support and a bold new Environment Bill,” Mayor Khan said.

Poor air quality stunts the growth of children’s lungs and worsens chronic illness, such as asthma, lung and heart disease; it costs the National Health Service tens of millions of pounds a year, which could rise to billions by 2035 if no action is taken.

Read the press release: 5 times greater reduction in NO2 in London than rest of the country

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